Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | November 27, 2007

3 Reasons I don’t buy into the emergent church movement

It tends to be about trying to package the Christian message in a way that is more relevant to our culture. I have no problem with that; culture changes and so will/should cultural expressions of the faith.

But here’s why I still don’t buy it:

1. Emergent church thought is about reform, but it doesn’t go far enough. I believe that reform is needed, it is desperately needed. But the Neo-Reformation that is beginning is like the reformation of the 16th cen., it is a complete house cleaning of the clutter that has built up in the church’s mind; clutter that is impeding our own understanding of the good news about Jesus, not just the way we explain the gospel to the world.

2. The emergent church movement is still thinking in old categories. I believe the Holy Spirit is calling the church to see the atonement as incarnational, not substitutionary. He is calling us to see his holiness in terms of the wholeness of relationship within the Triune Life that he shares with the Father and the Son, not in terms of sterile legal philosophies. He is reforming us to believe that the good news of Jesus is the good news of humanity’s adoption as sons and daughters of the Father of Jesus, and therefore our adoption as Jesus’ brothers and sisters, sharing in the life of his Spirit.

3. The emergent church raises good questions but misses the core issue. Most emergents are asking why Western Christianity is the way it is and what needs to change but they still have a wrong concept of the gospel. Catholic, Protestant, and otherwise we are all still defining the gospel in terms of a penalty being paid for sin instead of the Father’s eternal purpose of adoption.

So, I don’t buy into the emergent church movement – yet. But the world is about to change, the Neo-Reformation is coming, and who knows, the emergent church may yet be a home for the gospel.



  1. I have been studying the emergent church movement for a few years and agree with you Jonathan-it needs to find its way to a new theology (I like how you describe this as the need for a Neo-Reformation).

    I really like Ray Anderson’s book, “An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches.” In this book he shows how a fully Trinitarian, Christ-centered theology would be a great help to the emergent church movement, which he, in large part, supports.

  2. Thanks for the comment, and especially the book recommendation. I will definitely try to get a copy of Anderson’s book – it sounds really interesting.

  3. Have you read “The Secret Message of Jesus” by Brian McLaren? It does a wonderful job of addressing the “clutter that is impeding our own understanding of the good news about Jesus”.

    As for the emerging church not going far enough, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that complaint lodged. The way I see it, no one denomination or person or movement is going to capture everything the way it was meant to be; we can all only see a part of it. For me, the emerging church is the closest to my heart…

  4. I haven’t read that one, but I did read A New Kind of Christian by McLaren. I really enjoyed that book because I felt it reflected much of my own frustration with my experience of Christianity in 21st cen. America. However, it wasn’t until I read Baxter Kruger’s The Great Dance and Jesus and the Undoing of Adam that I began to feel my frustration dissipating. So, I give McLaren a lot of credit for helping us raise the right questions but I give Baxter Kruger even more credit for helping us find answers. You can find both his books at

  5. Awesome. I’m adding them to my reading list right now..

  6. I like resonate with this statement, “I believe the Holy Spirit is calling the church to see the atonement as incarnational, not substitutionary.”

    And the emergent conversation I have listened too and shared in all have had this element.

    I think there is reason to hope.

  7. Good point, James, thanks for commenting. You’re right, the incarnational atonement, along with “christus victor”, is a prominent feature of the emergent church – as you say there is much to be hopeful for. Still, I have yet to see all I’m looking for theologically there (e.g., holiness defined in terms of the Triune Life in which humanity is already included) – but I will keep looking and hoping.

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